Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis for Migraine and Mineral Balancing

The SimplyWell Protocol is an excellent set of lifestyle steps that can effectively dismantle many chronic migraine patterns.  However, some clients who have been suffering for decades, have been on medications for many years, or who have a history of trauma, surgery, or hormone replacement therapy, may need additional support in the form of mineral balancing through Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

In my coaching practice I have consistently seen serious damage done to people’s mineral balance through the casual (or, often doctor reccomended) use of supplements, especially vitamin D and multivitamins containing copper and zinc.  It is often incorrectly assumed that deficiencies in blood are an accurate reflection of the state of the cell, and that minerals do not interact with one another.  This could not be further from the truth.

In general, many women with migraine and hormonal imbalance have copper dysregulation (either low copper, or latent elevated copper).  Copper is needed to support metabolic function and the synthesis of the DAO enzyme, as well as thousands of other important enzymes.  Therefore supplementing with zinc without sufficient copper can be very problematic since it could further deplete copper levels if done improperly.  This is why one-on-one guidance is often necessary to balance zinc and copper levels, based on actual specific data from an individuals HTMA lab report.

What is Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis?

Your hair contains all the minerals present in your body, including nutritional minerals as well as toxic heavy metals.  Hair mineral analysis is a laboratory test that measures this mineral content in the hair.  In most cases, the test results reflect how much of these elements are in your tissues and provide a vivid picture of your cellular and tissue mineral levels.  With this information, a world of metabolic events can be interpreted.  Not only can your nutritional status be viewed, but the test can also reveal how efficiently your body is working on many levels – including adrenal function, thyroid function, metabolic type, stress response, heavy metal toxicity, hormonal function, chemical sensitivity, and more.

After 30 years of research, hair analysis has emerged as the most practical method of testing for mineral balance in your body.

How Accurate is HTMA Compared to a  Blood or Urine Test?

With a properly obtained sample, hair analysis is extremely accurate.  Blood tests give information about your mineral levels at the time of the test only.  If you’ve just eaten a banana, your test can indicate a high potassium level, even though you may actually need potassium supplementation.  On the other hand, hair analysis results indicate your overall level of potassium – your actual tissue and cellular storage levels over a period of time, not just what you ate that day or even that week. So a blood test will only accurately report what is being transported in our blood at the time of the test.

Testing for minerals in urine measures the minerals that are being excreted from your body – not necessarily what has been absorbed as fuel for your body.

So blood and urine tests are like snapshots whereas a hair analysis is the video of your mineral retention.

Understanding Dynamic Relationships Between Minerals

Vitamins and minerals interact with each other in a dynamic rather than static way.  Too much zinc, for example, can antagonize vitamin D.  Therefore, taking zinc indiscriminately may cause an imbalance in vitamin D.  Too little vitamin D, in turn, antagonizes calcium, creating poor conditions for calcium absorption.  So now you have a shortage of calcium.  Too much vitamin C can cause a copper deficiency and allow too much iron to build up in the body.  A domino effect occurs.  While you may be aware that vitamins and minerals are needed, too much of something can be just as bad as too little.

Mineral levels can be very closely and accurately analyzed using a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).  Marya is trained in HTMA and can assist with personalized mineral rebalancing as part of a one-on-one coaching session.

Causes of Hormonal and Menstrual Migraine

You probably already know that three times more women than men suffer from migraine. And if you are one of those many women, you have also probably already asked why. The typical answer is that it’s our hormonal differences that make us more susceptible to migraine than men – and this is obvious in the case of menstrual migraine. But since not all women get migraines despite these same hormones, the question is what factors lead some women’s hormones to get out of balance in such a way that this imbalance manifests as migraine.

My first version of the SimplyWell Protocol did not address the issue of “hormonal migraine”, or “menstrual migraine.” At the time that I first discovered and got stabilized on the Protocol, I did not have my moon cycle, as I was still nursing my first son two years after his birth. At this time, I was not a migraine coach, so I didn’t have the experience with private clients to share, which I now do.

Since I am not an endocrinologist, the inquiry for this blog post will be fairly general and necessarily simplified (for example, there are many types of estrogen but I will just refer to “estrogen” as though it is one thing).  I think that this simplicity will still be accurate for the purposes of providing a general understanding for why reducing histamine and glutamate (as per the SimplyWell Protocol) can work to alleviate “hormonal” migraines, and how low hormone levels caused by mineral deficiencies raise histamine and glutamate levels.

The Fluctuation of Estrogen and Progesterone at Ovulation and Menstruation

One very basic explanation for why migraine occurs during ovulation and menstruation has to do with the sudden spikes and drops of hormones during these times.  Women who have reached menopause do not have such intense hormonal fluctuations.

Notice in the graph below of a “normal” menstrual cycle that estrogen is high at ovulation while progesterone only starts to rise a little at this point.  Progesterone peaks in the week after ovulation (and estrogen is at its lowest point), then starts to plummet again leading up to menstruation. Both estrogen and progesterone get very low right before and during menstruation.

It is most common for women to get migraine directly prior to and during menstraution – more common than women getting migraine during ovulation.  This is because both levels of estrogen and progesterone are low at this time.

But why would low levels of estrogen and progesterone lead to migraine?

Histamine, Glutamate, and Menstrual Migraine

Both histamine and glutamate are excitatory neurotransmitters implicated in migraine, and levels of these two amino acids in the gut and brain are affected directly by hormones as they shift at different times of the menstrual cycle.

  • Estrogen and progesterone are glutamate transporters, ie, they help to reduce glutamate buildup. Excitotoxicity from glutamate is one key feature of migraine. Therefore, low levels of estrogen or progesterone (at menstruation) contribute to excitotoxicity. (Source)
  • Histamine intolerance or overload is a feature of migraine. Estrogen levels trigger mast cells to release histamine, so estrogens (including xenoestrogens and environmental pollutants that mimic estrogen), especially the estrogen spike at ovulation, will contribute to histamine overload. (Source)
  • But because most menstrual migraines occur at menstruation when both estrogen and progesterone are low, I hypothesize that glutamates are playing an even larger role in migraine than histamine.
  • Estrogen also down-regulates DAO (diamine oxidase), one enzyme that breaks down histamine. Estrogen replacement therapy and “the pill” increase estrogen levels and deplete progesterone – which may be one reason why headache is a known side-effect of the pill. (Source)
  • Progesterone is used by the body to make cortisol.  Therefore excessive amounts of stress will deplete progesterone levels, and thereby raise glutamate. Progesterone is also needed to upregulate DAO (diamine oxidase), one enzyme that breaks down histamine. (Source)
  • Hormones are processed by the liver, so anyone with an overwhelmed liver will necessarily have more of a tendency towards hormonal imbalances. (Source)
  • Stress depletes zinc, which is needed to make progesterone. (Source). Zinc and copper have a reciprocal relationship. When zinc is depleted, copper levels rise, leading to more estrogen and histamine.
  • When both zinc and copper are low, hormonal function of both estrogen and progesterone is compromised.
  • Sudden drops in estrogen or progesterone during ovulation or directly prior to menstruation may account for migraines coming on at these times. (Source)

Additional Factors Influencing Menstrual Migraine

Digestive health clearly plays a role in both instances of hormonal migraine during ovulation and prior to menses.  When the gut flora are out of balance, there is a proliferation of bacteria that produce glutamate and histamine – meaning that the histamine and glutamate load from food sources is ADDING TO the load already present in the (imbalanced) gut.

So for many women who have a large load of glutamate and histamine from both food and gut bacteria sources, any situation in which estrogen, progesterone, or both get very low can lead to an overload – and a migraine (for reasons described in the last section).

If a woman’s stress load is very high or her sleep quality is poor, she will be even more susceptible to menstrual migraine. But why? Because both stress and poor sleep quality lead to mineral depletion (especially of magnesium and zinc). Minerals are key building blocks for all enzymes, including those that manufacture estrogen and progesterone.

We know that stress reduction is key to healing migraine because cortisol, the hormone released during stress, is made from progesterone; so, stress leads to insufficient supplies of progesterone to clean up glutamates.

Drinking coffee or caffeine also increases cortisol so is antithetical to healing hormonal migraine (or any kind of migraine).  Coffee should not be consumed regularly, and only used as a last resort to help abort a migraine.

Since most migraineurs usually have insomnia or poor sleep quality once they are asleep, coffee as well as foods and medications like aspirin which contain caffeine should also be reduced or avoided.  It can be very difficult to heal insomnia when consuming large amounts of caffeine.  Since the body repairs itself at night, getting quality sleep is crucial to healing menstrual migraine.

Migraine and Pregnancy

Luckily for most women who suffer from migraines, when they get pregnant, these migraines miraculously disappear – usually in the third trimester.  What could explain this?

To keep inflammation at bay, the placenta increases DAO (diamine oxidase) production, effectively reducing histamine.  By the third trimester, these levels are peaking.

Estrogen and progesterone both rise in the third trimester.  While estrogen generally increases histamine, this is presumably counter-balanced by the high DAO from the placenta.  And again, since estrogen and progesterone are both glutamate transporters, these higher levels of hormones help reduce migraine during pregnancy as well.

Unfortunately, following pregnancy, these same hormones plummet again.  The migraine-prone mother is likely to be revisited by her migraines, but this time they may be much worse due to the demands of motherhood, sleep deprivation, or recovering from the all-too-common c-section operation and a disrupted microbiome from the antibiotics and other meds.

Hormonal Migraines and Menopause

The vast majority (probably 90%) of my clients are peri- or post-menopausal. While it’s commonly known that many women’s migraines disappear after menopause, I think this is changing. At least some women’s migraines are getting worse with menopause.

This means that migraine is not just a result of the sudden shifts and fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone in the cycle (in the case of menstruating women), but also from chronically low levels of progesterone and estrogen during menopause.

Why, then, do some women’s migraines go away when they reach menopause while other women’s do not?  I believe the women who continue to have migraine have a much higher incidence of gut flora imbalances, digestive problems, mineral imbalances, and liver disease than those whose migraines go away.

And it’s no wonder.  While it’s normal for digestive health to decline somewhat with age, we have to consider why many women who have hit menopause are so overwhelmed with health problems.

Peri and post-menopausal women with chronic migraine will tend to have a large constellation of other symptoms besides migraine, such as fibromyalgia, uterine fibroids, cystic fibrosis, cataracts, depression, etc.  They tend to be on more medications, more synthetic hormones, and have had more surgeries (read: more antibiotics and a disrupted microbiome) – including plastic surgery.

Women with a congested liver will process estrogen less efficiently – and thyroid hormones too! Liver congestion then spills over into gallbladder problems, which are also chronic in migraineurs.  And the cascade of downstream problems continues . . . .  They are all connected, but doctors are treating them as though they are separate conditions.

Many of the women who come to me also have common character traits: highly empathic women who are givers, they tend to overextend themselves and not know how to slow down. These women, even while they are on anti-depressants, very often have an obvious lust for life.  They are not fundamentally depressed people, they are simply in a very depressing situation battling chronic migraine for literally decades.

All of these meds, and all of this stress, leads to more and more mineral depletion. Which leads to lower hormone levels, and higher glutamate and histamine levels. Yes, I’m repeating myself.

Let me say it again, and simply:  the solution is to stop doing the things that deplete minerals (stress, meds), slow down – and replenish your minerals.

Healing Menstrual Migraine with the SimplyWell Protocol

From the people I’ve coached who were not menopausal and had hormonal migraine I can confirm that the SimplyWell Protocol can address so-called “hormonal migraine”, but its success (and how fast that success happens) depends on a number of factors.

One factor is how long the migraines have existed (ie, how chronic the pattern is) – with less chronic, shorter history of menstrual migraines resolving within 2-3 months.

The second major factor is how many medications the person is on to manage migraines, which always seems to slow healing and success on the Protocol down (probably because of the way that the medications congest the liver, alter the microbiome, and deplete minerals).

So: people who have already been eating a whole foods diet, have had migraines for 5-10 years instead of 20 or 30 years, and have used minimal medications (meaning fewer than five doses of any pharmaceutical per month) will recover quicker on the Protocol than those whose pattern of depletion has been ongoing for decades and involves a big dependence on medications.

However inconvenient it may be, the fact remains that healing takes time.

With chronic migraine, the level of mineral and nutrient depletion on a cellular and tissue level can be profound.

Even while the gut flora get rehabilitated on the Protocol, and nutrient absorption improves, the body may be so far behind on repairs that it may decide to do any number of things with those nutrients to “catch up” on improving other functions before hormonal balance comes into the sequence of improvements.

As an example to the last point, the B vitamins and also especially copper are crucial for hormonal balance and yet they are also required for thousands of other processes in the body.

The good news is that even while healing takes time, the body does know the right sequence, and improvements are usually seen long before the symptoms are completely eliminated.

Usually clients on the Protocol who present with hormonal migraine see an initial clearing of the migraines and headaches they have during the rest of the month, an improvement in energy, and symptoms of migraine during their moon cycle gradually becoming less severe.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to Heal Migraine

Deeper-seated, longer-standing hormonal imbalances that have been ongoing for decades may need additional support in the form of specific mineral balancing of copper, zinc, and other minerals to improve electrolyte, enzyme, and hormone function.

Mineral levels can be very closely and accurately analyzed using a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).  Marya is trained in HTMA and can assist with personalized mineral rebalancing as part of a one-on-one coaching session.

In general, many women with migraine and hormonal imbalance have copper dysregulation (either low copper, or latent elevated copper).  Copper is needed to support metabolic function and the synthesis of the DAO enzyme, as well as thousands of other important enzymes.  Therefore supplementing with zinc without sufficient copper can be very problematic since it could further deplete copper levels if done improperly.  This is why one-on-one guidance is often necessary to balance zinc and copper levels, based on actual specific data from an individuals HTMA lab report.

To Sum Up . . .

Healing menstrual migraine involves reducing estrogen load, increasing progesterone, reducing glutamate and histamine load, cleansing the liver, improving digestive function so that minerals are properly absorbed, balancing minerals, and reducing medications and stress.

Pain-solving Migraine Salve Recipe with Ancient Healing Resins

Making your own medicine is empowering and fun.  You get to source your own ingredients, adapt the recipe to get it just how you like it, and finally use the medicine to help yourself. This particular migraine salve is incredibly potent – every single ingredient is a powerful healing agent.

I personally believe that there is a placebo effect that amplifies the medicinal qualities of the ingredients used when we take the time to make medicine ourselves rather than purchasing it elsewhere.  Each time we use our medicine we give the message to our bodymind that Mother Nature has provided us with ample support in the form of botanical plants, and that as long as we have access to the ingredients, our healing is in our own hands because we have the knowledge to make our own medicine – in this case, a luscious migraine salve to rub on our temples and massage into our neck muscles!

But don’t cayenne and cinnamon trigger migraine?

You’ll notice that a few of the ingredients in here, like cayenne, clove, and cinnamon, are high-histamine plants which can actually trigger a migraine if ingested as food.  It’s common for people with migraine to be told ingesting cayenne or cinnamon will help with their migraines.  This is a big mistake, as I outlined here in this blog post. The great thing about this salve is that we can still benefit from the analgesic (pain-numbing) and circulation-enhancing properties of these plants by applying them topically to help with head pain.

Here is an excerpt from that blog post that describes why cinnamon and cayenne are not to be ingested if you have migraine, but why they are valuable topically in a salve like the one we’re about to make here.

  • Cayenne as well as most spicy chilis, especially their seeds, contain a powerful compound called capsaicin. How capsaicin is administered makes a difference in its therapeutic effects (or lack thereof).  Because cayenne (and capsaicin) thins mucous, consumption of cayenne may be more applicable for those with sinus headaches than with migraines caused by digestive upset and histamine overload. This mechanism makes sense when you consider that those who experience relief from capsaicin get it when they take capsaicin in a drink (where it gets exposed to the nasal sinus) but don’t when they take it in capsule form. Capsaicin has been shown to inhibit CGRP (Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide), a potent vasodilator implicated in migraine. However, again, in this study the capsaicin was administered through the nose (Source). Intranasal exposure to capsaisin numbs and desensitizes the cranial nerves. Note that Lundberg and coworkers found that CGRP was inhibited (in guinea pig lung) only when small concentrations of capsaicin were used, but not when high concentrations were (Source). Capsaicin seems to contribute to migraine by way of neurogenic inflammation on a cellular level caused by a sudden influx of calcium into the cell followed by cell death (Source).  It also triggers herpes virus, which may be playing a role in migraine.  For those with histamine intolerance, ingesting cayenne must be avoided, because capsaicin not only contains histamine but also is a potent vasodilator itself (source).  It is a very potent trigger. If you’re going to take it, take it up the nose.  Otherwise – avoid!
  • Cinnamon is without a doubt an incredible healing plant ally. It is warming, pungent, and therefore dispersing of stagnation, which is one reason why cinnamon may be suggested by holistic health care practitioners to improve circulation. Cinnamon especially is also a powerful antiviral and antibiotic as well as a mast cell stabilizer.It is not totally clear why cinnamon triggers migraine, but it has been observed repeatedly that it does in those with histamine overload.  Cinnamon does contain histamine, but most likely, histamine triggers caused by cinnamon are due to the fact that sodium benzoate (NaB) produced by cinnamon is a DAO inhibitor and will therefore impair histamine degradation.  It must also be noted that there are different kinds of cinnamon, and the coumarin in cinnamon may be the culprit, as it is hard for the liver to process (and could therefore trigger migraine in someone who already had compromised liver detoxification).
  • Clove also has different effects when used topically than it does internally.  Clove is a powerful antiviral and also a warming, pungent oil that enhances circulation in a way similar to how cayenne and cinnamon do. It is also one of the most potent antioxidants known.

Bring on the sacred healing resins, frankincense and myrrh!

I’m so infatuated with frankincense and myrrh.  These ancient resins have stuck around for aeons because they work in so many ways to support health. While there are many benefits to frankincense and myrrh taken internally (management of cancer, arthritis, candida, for example) and topically for healing wounds as an antiseptic, for our purposes here we are interested in the therapeutic effects of the aromatics and their beneficial effect on the nervous system.

Although these resins originate in Arabia, eventually the Chinese incorporated them into their medicinal cornucopia.  In Chinese medicine:

“Frankincense and myrrh both quicken the blood and relieve pain. However, frankincense moves qi to quicken the blood and also stretches the sinews, frees the channels, soothes the network vessels, and relieves pain. Myrrh, by contrast, dissipates stasis to quicken the blood and also disperses swelling and settles pain. The former tends to act on qi, while the latter acts on blood. When the two medicinals are used together, the benefits of each are mutually enhanced. Therefore, these two medicinals are almost always used together in clinical practice.”(Source)

First, make the resin-infused oil

Put 3/4 cup of sesame oil in a mason jar along with the frankincense and myrrh resin, the cayenne, and the red sandalwood powder.  Put the lid on tight and and stir the ingredients together to fully saturate them with the oil. Put the mason jar in a slow cooker or in a slow cooker or Instapot, filling it with warm water so that it comes half way up the side of the jar.  Turn the slow cooker on low heat and heat in the water for 24 hours, shaking/agitating the herbs in the oil every few hours to help them dissolve.

Strain the herbs through a coffee filter to remove them, pressing them as you filter them to keep as much of the oil as possible.  You can make this infused oil ahead of time or in larger batches and keep the oil shelf-stable in a cool dry place for up to five years.

For the infused oil:
3/4 cup organic sesame oil
1 Tablespoon organic frankincense resin powder (boswellia carteri)
1 Tablespoon organic myrrh resin powder (commiphora myrrha)
1 teaspoon organic red sandalwood powder
1 teaspoon organic cayenne pepper

For our purposes today we will use all of the oil for our migraine salve – it should turn out to be 1/2 cup of oil after straining, or 8T of oil.

Next, make the migraine salve

For the salve:
2 Tablespoons beeswax
6 tabs cocoa butter (about 1.5 Tablespoons)
30 drops organic essential oil of lavender
35 drops organic essential oil of clove
15 drops organic essential oil of cinnamon
10 drops organic essential oil of frankincense
10 drops organic essential oil of basil

Add the herb infused oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax to a cup in a double-boiler. Simmer the water in the double boiler over low heat until the beeswax and cocoa butter is completely melted. Once the mixture has cooled a little, add the essential oils in.

Stir the migraine salve as it begins to cool further, pouring it into tins and letting it cool completely before putting the caps on. This makes 1/2 cup of migraine salve.

How to use the migraine salve

This salve can be used to help ease headaches and migraine.  Apply to the temples, base of the skull, or even cautiously inside the nose.  Using this in the nasal passage is likely to be most effective but be forewarned it does have a little burning sensation to it.

You can also use the migraine salve on swollen lymph nodes and swollen glands, or rub it on joints that ache.  A small dab is all that’s necessary.  Apply as often as you need to.  Avoid putting this salve directly on open cuts, wounds, or broken skin.

This migraine salve is also available in our shop!

It’s in the spirit of opensource Folk Medicine that I share this “Pain-solving Salve” recipe. But for those of you who are not DIYers, are too overwhelmed dealing with migraines to make this stuff on your own, or who don’t want to invest upfront in all the ingredients to make it, it is available her in our shop.

 

Beyond Nutrition: Stress Reduction Leverage Points for Healing Migraine (Video)

We all know we need to reduce our stress, get more rest, and exercise.  But how do we break the cycle of overextending ourselves and prioritize our healing above all else?  It’s tempting to just focus on diet as the key leverage point in healing, but it is still hard to heal if we are unable implement other important lifestyle changes that reduce stress and give our bodies a chance to repair.  In the video below I share my personal explorations with sleep hygiene, exercise, and how to make these a priority.

Herpes as Root Cause of Migraine: Inquiry, Research and Evidence

Despite much research and knowledge that has been gleaned over the years about migraine, it is still a stubborn and formidable beast of a condition that confounds many of medicine’s best practitioners. I coach people with migraine headaches who have seen some of the most accomplished migraine experts in the world and have tried very sophisticated treatments and medications for migraine – and yet they still suffer.

Because migraine headaches are a manifestation of a serious chronic systemic inflammatory process affecting every major organ of the body, there are infinite angles and lenses through which we can try to understand migraine. Migraine is associated with:

  • food sensitivities and digestive problems
  • environmental chemical sensitivities
  • reduced thyroid function (hypothyroid)
  • congested liver and gallbladder
  • adrenal/pituitary axis imbalances and kidney problems
  • neurotransmitter imbalances with attendant mood “disorders” such as anxiety and depression
  • cranial nerve activation and cortical spreading depression
  • hormonal imbalances (low progesterone to estrogen ratios)
  • low antioxidant status (especially glutathione)
  • electrolyte and consequent blood pressure imbalances (caused mostly by compromised kidney function)
  • dehydration
  • beta-amyloid plaque/lesions
  • low blood pressure
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • blood platelet aggregation (“sticky blood”)
  • lymphatic congestion
  • compromised mitochondrial function
  • peripheral neuropathies
  • increased risk of stroke
  • hypermobile joints and lax connective tissue around blood vessels (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome)
  • TMJ
  • Light sensitivities
  • neck and muscular tension
  • insomnia
  • unresolved trauma
  • chronic stress
  • Chronic viral and fungal infections
  • Comorbities like cataracts and arthritis
  • And the list goes on and on

What could possibly explain this wide range of problems?  Where would we even start?

If you ask the experts, you’ll see that they are still debating whether migraine starts in the gut as a digestive and enzymatic problem, is caused by circulatory issues (dilated or constricted blood vessels), or originates in the brain itself (cortical spreading depression).

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s all one integrated system. Since the vagus nerve connecting gut and brain is a two-way circuit (with 80% of the nerve transmission going from gut to head), I’m not sure why these differing perspectives on the root cause are seen as mutually exclusive. What if ALL of these perspectives are right? And what if, despite being right, these experts are overlooking something crucial?

No matter what the experts say about migraine starting in the brain, we know that migraine in a large number of people is triggered by foods and improved when these foods are eliminated.  We also know that other factors like sleep deprivation and stress can cause migraine without a food trigger. These are not incompatible viewpoints (or even different types of migraine, necessarily) because as we know, migraine is a systemic inflammatory condition. In a constant state of inflammation, triggers can and do come from any number of directions and reinforce each other through infinite nonlinear feedback loops.

There does seem to be quite a bit of agreement that alterations in the microbiome play a big role in not only migraine but most chronic inflammatory diseases.  The problem is that so much of the research has been exclusively focused on the gut microbiome, and that is what comes to mind when someone says “microbiome”. As it turns out, every individual part of our body has a microbiome – and that includes our blood and our brain.

Our Microbiome Includes Viruses

Awhile back, I used to think primarily of bacteria when I considered that people who have had antibiotics have an altered microbiome.  I focused on the problem that many bacteria produce histamine and glutamate, two molecules that, when present in excess, can overwhelm a person’s body with inflammation and pain.  These bacteria can even get infected by viruses, which also make up the microbiome.

New viruses in the human microbiome are being discovered in droves as we speak.

 . . . [W]e cannot study human chronic inflammatory disease without understanding that viruses we have not yet identified may play a role in many human disease processes. To do so would be like going to the rainforest, studying only 2% of the animals, and coming to conclusions about how the entire rainforest functions off that information alone.

Despite this fact many doctors have been taught to test for only 10-20 well-known viruses in their human patients. If these viruses are not identified in the patient, it is assumed that a virus (or group of viruses) cannot be driving or contributing to the patient’s disease. We must work hard to change this assumption, because it greatly prevents the medical/research communities from looking at a much broader picture of what might be going on. (Source)

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that:

. . . even “non-sick” humans harbor over 200 organisms in the brain. Those numbers don’t even include the virome (viruses). And we know that a bunch of herpes viruses can also survive in the brain . . . the gut microbiome and the brain microbiome communicate a lot via the vagus nerve. There’s lots of traffic, with bacteria in the brain/gut talking to one another via this highway all the time. Some products of gut fermentation like Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) literally travel the Vagus Nerve (physical translocation). . . . Conversely, certain bacteria in the gut live exclusively off chemicals generated in the brain that are transported to the gut (Source).

If you’re like me, you probably read that statement and thought about what an amazing organism the body is to be able to communicate between different systems so well – and marvel at the fact that bacteria and viruses live in the brain.  But if you’re like me (especially if you don’t have active herpes infections or any history of that) you probably didn’t really make much of the fact that herpes viruses live in our brains, or wonder if they could be the cause of your migraine headache.

OR, maybe you are someone like the many chronic migraine sufferers I see who “just happen” to also deal with chronic recurring herpes infections, from blisters on your mouth to your butt.  If so, you may have had a little aha moment reading that statement above, and wondered if having herpes in your brain might be related to your migraines.

Like most people (at least, “older” people who grew up prior to the chicken-pox vaccine), I got chicken pox as a kid and mono as a teenager.  It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, having experienced the negative effects of industrial medicine and antibiotics, that my microbiome started to get seriously out of whack.  The c-section operation that I had with the birth of my first son tipped me over into migraine hell. Five years later now I believe the sheer stress of that event, coupled with the mineral deficiencies that resulted from it, triggered latent herpes virus to get a stronghold in my brain (and perhaps my gut and sinus).

Two and a half years after that c-section operation (after suffering from about 3 migraines per week and other countless headaches during that time), I found a way to manage my symtoms wih what I now call the SimplyWell Protocol.  As elated as I was to have a clear brain again, I was also puzzled by the fact that the migraines would return when I stopped the Protocol. I was also mystified as to why it was that after I was able to eat every other food that had previously triggered me, I could not eat even the slightest amount of spicy chilli food without getting some kind of brain fog or headache.

Even after five years of researching migraine, I didn’t think herpes played a role in migraine pathology – until I set out to answer a simple question that kept bugging me. I realized there was a clue here that could potentially hack the mystery of migraine headaches if I could unravel why capsaicin was such a trigger.

Why is it that capsaicin in chilli remains my only food trigger for headache after years on my Protocol which otherwise works to allow me to eat hard cheese, wine, chocolate, beer, etc without any problems?

Little did I know this question would lead me to believe that herpes virus infection is the underlying root cause of most migraine headaches.

How Deficiencies Contribute to Viral Overload

As you may know from my last blog post, “Bioavailable Copper for Healing Migraine, Histamine, Herpes, and Hormones (Video)“, I’ve been obsessed with copper recently.

I’ve been studying Morley Robbin’s Root Cause Protocol, a series of steps designed to help copper become bioavailable and thereby able to perform its numerous critical enzymatic functions (including the breakdown of histamine by DAO).

Ceruloplasm is a protein made in the liver that transports copper making it bioavailable, and requires vitamin A and C and some other nutrients. Incidentally, ceruloplasm also helps carry iron to the cells. Without it, these metals in unbound form accumulate in organs and tissues, including the brain but also the liver.  Iron buildup is a key feature of amyloid plaque present in migraineurs. And heavy metal toxicity in general is a known comorbidity in those with migraine. As it turns out, viral infections get triggered by heavy metal toxicity – yet very few people believe that migraine is caused by a virus (or two, or more).  Viruses thrive in the lowered acidic pH caused by metals especially iron.

Harvard neurologist Robert Moir stated in an interview that herpes virus was discovered in amyloid plaque of many people beyond those with Alzheimers – and that (contrary to what was previously assumed), amyloid-beta plaque may serve an intelligent adaptive function  . . . “our studies have found that amyloid-beta has strong antimicrobial activity against the herpes viruses and these viruses are linked to increased plaque deposition.” (Source).  Other researchers have found confirmation that “infection of cultured neuronal and glial cells with HSV1 leads to a dramatic increase in the intracellular levels of beta-amyloid (Abeta) 1-40 and 1-42 . . . “ (Source).

There are 9 herpes virus types that infect humans: herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2; varicella-zoster virus, Epstein–Barr virus, human cytomegalovirus, human herpesvirus 6A and 6B, human herpesvirus 7, and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.

Another 130 herpes types infect other animal species – such as ocean turtles, who develop tumors when their herpes virus gets out of control because of exposure to excessive nitrogen compounds in the ocean (hmmmm, migraines get triggered with nitrogen too!).

Knowing that a mineral imbalance of copper would contribute to heavy metal buildup and opportunistic infection of herpes (and other) viruses in the brain, I started to wonder how capsaicin (my one remaining trigger for headache) might affect herpes.  This single question has led me down a path of many questions as I cross-check the validity of the idea that capsaicin is a potent trigger for migraine because it is actually triggering herpes.

Some Research Notes

I have found plenty of evidence to support the hypothesis that what many people believe is migraine may instead be a type of herpesvirus meningoencephalitis. I am not sure which herpes viruses are implicated though it appears different types trigger encephalitis.  I also found out that excess sulfur in the body (which causes sulfur sensitivity issues in many with migraine) robs the body of copper, further exacerbating the problem.

The inquiry and research notes I found along the way looked something like what is outlined below.

I wonder if a connection between herpes and migraine has already been proposed or established?  Looks like it has, with the majority of the evidence summarized by NaPier and Morimoto in their 2018 paper “Migraine Headache Treated with Famciclovir and Celecoxib: A Case Report”:   

“A previously healthy 21-year-old white woman presented with a severe headache and was diagnosed with severe migraine headache disorder. She initially was treated with standard migraine headache medications without symptomatic improvement. She was then given famciclovir and celecoxib. The patient fully recovered within days and continues to enjoy significant reduction in severity and frequency of symptoms. Famciclovir and celecoxib may work synergistically against HSV. The virus may play a role in the pathophysiology of migraine headaches, and this is the first case report of successful migraine headache treatment with these medications. . . It appears that a triggering event in a genetically predisposed patient can initiate a cascade resulting in the headache experience.1 Specifically, trigeminal ganglion activation seems to be a common early observation among patients with migraine.. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) has been known to reside within the trigeminal ganglion and is speculated to play a role in migraine headache pathophysiology. Treatments to target HSV infection may be important in migraine headache management. . . .

There has been much speculation about the relationship between migraine headaches and HSV, which already has been implicated in some forms of cranial nerve (CN) disorders. In 1991, Adour demonstrated that patients with acute herpes labialis also exhibited [Cranial Nerve] deficiencies involving [Cranial Nerves] V, VII, IX, and X. This phenomenon was termed HSV-related polyganglionitis. In 2003, Thiel et al examined the presence of HSV in postmortem ganglions. By using a specific immunostaining technique, the investigators revealed that HSV-1 and HSV-3 latently resided in the [Cranial Nerve] V (trigeminal) ganglions. It was then speculated that chronic infection and inflammation of the ganglion by [Herpes Simplex Virus] were present in many patients. In 2013, VanElzakker hypothesized that pathologically activated glial cells in the vagal sensory ganglia could cause an exaggerated sickness response that is found in chronic fatigue syndrome. If VanElzakker’s hypothesis is true, then we must ask whether glial cells in the intracranial trigeminal ganglia, pathologically activated by [Herpes Simplex Virus], could initiate migraine.” (Source)

Here is another single case report:

“. . . A 49-year-old lady presents with a 3-year history of a constant 24/7 headache in the right frontal-temporal area of her head and deep behind her eyes. This headache is severe, constant and requires daily analgesics, which have caused a fatty liver. She is overweight and extremely tired.

“She has been told by a neurologist that it is a migraine, which does not make sense, as migraines are episodic headaches and come and go. Her headaches do not respond to drugs that suppress migraines and the neurologist has not been able to help her. She continues to suffer and sees a gynecologist, who tells her that she has headaches due to menopause! Strange, as headaches are not a symptom of menopause and hormone therapy does not help her headaches.

“The clue is that over the previous 3 years she has had an episode of shingles affecting the right forehead and right eye, which was treated with anti-viral medications. Notwithstanding treatment the constant headache remains. Other causes of her headaches are excluded including high blood pressure, sinus infection and brain tumors, and extensive investigations reveal no cause for her headaches. I deduce that she has the herpes virus active in her brain, trigeminal nerve and possibly her optic nerves, which is causing the inflammation and thus the pain.

“I prescribe a detox for her liver and nutritional supplements to fight the herpes virus and reduce brain inflammation. Her headaches gradually lessen and she starts to have headache free days.” (Source)

Interesting.  So infection with herpes viruses has been proposed as causative for migraine, and antiviral herpes medication to migraine presumably caused by herpes has had mixed results.  

Looks like a number of different herpes virus strains are implicated in encephalopathy (brain inflammation and swelling).  Migraine is a form of encephalopathy.

“There is evidence that aberrant inflammation triggered by herpes simplex can result in granulomatous inflammation in the brain, which responds to steroids.  While the herpes virus can be spread, encephalitis itself is not infectious. Other viruses can cause similar symptoms of encephalitis, though usually milder (Herpesvirus 6, varicella zoster virus, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, coxsackievirus, etc).” (Source)


What further evidence is there to show that herpes causes infection in the cranial nerves?

“Evidence suggests that many cranial nerve syndromes, such as migraine headache, acute vestibular neuronitis, globus hystericus, carotidynia, acute facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), and Meniere’s disease, are caused by the neurotropic herpes simplex virus (HSV). Because transitory cranial nerve dysfunction during acute HSV infection can be asymptomatic but often occurs in conjunction with mucocutaneous vesicles, we tested five subjects with herpes labialis for cranial nerve dysfunction. . . . Similar findings of an acute, transitory nature should suggest to the clinician a viral polyganglionitis caused by HSV infection.” (Source)

Well, a lot of my migraine clients have active infections of herpes, but I wonder about all the others who don’t.  Could herpes still be playing a role in their migraines?

“Upon primary infection of the oronasal mucosa, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) rapidly reaches the ganglia of the peripheral nervous system via axonal transport and establishes lifelong latency in surviving neurons. Central to the establishment of latency is the ability of HSV-1 to reliably switch from productive, lytic spread in epithelia to nonproductive, latent infection in sensory neurons. It is not fully understood what specifically disposes incoming particles of a highly cytopathogenic, fast-replicating alphaherpesvirus to nonproductive, latent infection in sensory neurons.” (Source)

75% of all people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) get migraine.  I wonder if herpes infection plays a role in CFS?

“The vagus nerve infection hypothesis of CFS contends that CFS symptoms are a pathologically exaggerated version of normal sickness behavior that can occur when sensory vagal ganglia or paraganglia are themselves infected with any virus or bacteria. . . . pathogen-activated glial cells can bombard the sensory vagus nerve with proinflammatory cytokines and other neuroexcitatory substances, initiating an exaggerated and intractable sickness behavior signal. According to this hypothesis, any pathogenic infection of the vagus nerve can cause CFS, which resolves the ongoing controversy about finding a single pathogen.” (Source)

So it seems plausible that herpes (or other) viruses, even while latent, could be causing inflammation and migraine (along with a host of other pathological symptoms) through sensitization of multiple cranial nerves.

Spicy food containing capsaicin is such a huge trigger for brain fog, headache, and migraine. I wonder what effect capsaicin has on herpes viruses?

“Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) produces a life-long latent infection in neurons of the peripheral nervous system, primarily in the trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia. Neurons of these ganglia express high levels of the capsaicin receptor, also known as the vanilloid receptor-1 (VR-1). VR-1 is a non-selective ion channel, found on sensory neurons, that primarily fluxes Ca(2+) ions in response to various stimuli, including physiologically acidic conditions, heat greater than 45 degrees C and noxious compounds such as capsaicin. Using an in vitro neuronal model to study HSV-1 latency and reactivation, we found that agonists of the VR-1 channel – capsaicin and heat – resulted in reactivation of latent HSV-1. . . .  Taken together, these results suggest that activation of the VR-1 channel, often associated with increases in intracellular calcium, results in HSV-1 reactivation in sensory neurons.” (Source)

“Capsaicin activates the heat and pH-sensitive ion channel Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 (TRPV1), which seems to be involved in the pathophysiology of migraine. TRPV1 is expressed on trigeminal nociceptors, which innervate the dura mater and the meningeal vascular system. Activation of TRPV1 causes release of CGRP from trigeminal nerve terminals and neurogenic inflammation within the meninges, possibly initiating migraine attacks. Accordingly, the anti-migraine drug sumatriptan was recently shown to block trigeminal TRPV1 channels . . Injection of capsaicin into the carotid artery caused a significant increase in jugular CGRP levels that was sustained for 15 min.” (Source)

Fasacinating – not only does capsaicin trigger herpes viruses, it causes reactivation by affecting the capsaicin-vallinoid receptor of the Transient Receptor Potential channels (TRPV1):

“The family of receptors called TRPs drive sensations that allow us to navigate the world, especially our interactions with plants that we encounter or eat. They are responsible for diverse responses like coolness, heat, pain, taste, itch, nausea and drive local protective responses in our barriers like skin, gut and lungs. They are portals that allow us to make choices that are desirable and warn us of danger. They provide flavor to food and form a chemical radar for our wellbeing.” (Source)

Even more interesting is that BOTH herpes and capsaicin increase CGRP levels.  CGRP is a neuropeptide in the brain that causes blood vessel dilation and migraine at elevated levels.  The new CGRP receptor antagonist drugs aim to blunt the receptivity of the neurons to this peptide. With all the new CGRP drugs coming out, I wonder what other evidence exists that herpes raises CGRP levels?

“At all times after infection, equal numbers of CGRP-positive neurons were seen in infected and uninfected ganglia and in sham-operated mice. These results show that [Herpes Simplex Virus -2] infection differentially affects host neuropeptide production and that nervous system effects are not restricted to the acute stage of infection. These events are consistent with those seen in other injury/regeneration paradigms.” (Source)

“In this study, the effects of neuropeptides substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) on production of pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF and IL-1 beta by macrophages were considered. Mouse peritoneal macrophages were infected with herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), or remained unstimulated, and cytokine assays were performed after 12 h. . .  It was concluded that the macrophage-mediated inflammatory response to HSV-1 is enhanced in the presence of these neuropeptides.” (Source)

“In vivo, we further identified a specific subset of NefH+ neurons which co-expressed Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide α (NefH+ CGRP+) as the sensory neuron subpopulation with the highest LAT promoter activity following HSV-1 infection. Finally, an early-phase reactivation assay showed HSV-1 reactivating in NefH+ CGRP+ neurons, although other sensory neuron subpopulations were also involved.” (Source)

Free radical damage (from reactive oxygen species such as peroxynitrite and Nitrogen Oxide, or NO) are also implicated in migraine:

“Besides mitochondrial dysfunction, migraineurs also have higher levels of NO products in their blood during the inter-episodic period. This can be related to the higher basal activity of the L-arginine/NO pathway, especially in patients of migraine with aura and without aura. These products react with superoxide to form peroxynitrite.” (Source)

“M[agnesium] and vit.B6 modulate the level of NO in the cell, both of which are deficient in migraineurs. Due to deficiency of Mg the trapped NO within the cell is not removed which combines with superoxide in the cell and generates peroxynitrite which is a potent free radical resulting in myelin degeneration at specific areas denuding hypersensitive neurons inducing migraines. . . . Both iron and copper are transition metals which become free and stored in deep areas of the brain and peripheral nervous tissue where these ions catalyse the oxidation of catecholamines and produce highly reactive radicals which also cause neurodegeneration, lipid-peroxidation and demyelination exposing hypersensitive neurons inducing migraines.” (Source)

I wonder if herpes virus causes the formation of any free radicals (such as peroxynitrite), adding to the overall load of free radicals compounds associated with migraine?

“Published studies have shown that, like other inflammatory mediators, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are generated during viral brain infection. It is increasingly clear that ROS are responsible for facilitating secondary tissue damage during central nervous system infection and may contribute to neurotoxicity associated with herpes encephalitis.” (Source)

Okay.  So herpes virus infection in the brain, sometimes triggered by capsaicin, increases CGRP, Nitric Oxide, and free radical damage by peroxynitrite. I wonder if herpes virus infection increases glutamate load, which is also a feature of migraine?

“This study demonstrated that herpesvirus 6 (which everyone has been exposed to in childhood as roseola) decreases glutamate transporters (which would in turn increase glutamate): “We infected astrocyte cultures in vitro with HHV-6 and found a marked decrease in glutamate transporter EAAT-2 expression” (Source).

Studying epilepsy (not migraine) caused by herpes, researchers found that “[herpes] infected brain tissue didn’t produce very much of a chemical that transports the key neurotransmitter glutamate across the brain. . . If it doesn’t get transported properly, it ‘hangs around’, and because glutamate tends to make brain cells more active, too much could lead to overactivity . . .In the lab, they discovered that herpes slowed the creation of the transporter chemical for glutamate, providing strong evidence for the link.” (Source)

As you can probably tell, there are countless questions we could (and should) ask to try to cross-check this idea with various features of migraine. For example, how does citrus affect herpes?  Does blue light trigger herpes? Etc. etc. But I hope this little clustering of research is enough to make you intrigued about a possible, or actual, connection between herpes virus and migraine.

This blog post is an excerpt from my new e-book, available in my shop.

Bioavailable Copper for Healing Migraine, Histamine, Herpes, and Hormones (Video)

This past week was a goldmine for me connecting dots in my ever-deepening understanding of migraine pathology. I’ve been dancing with joy because what I’ve discovered explains a LOT about the root cause of migraine.  And it all has to do with having sufficient bioavailable copper to heal your migraines.

As you know, I’ve been looking for that root cause in earnest because while my beloved Protocol does prevent me and others from having migraine, it clearly hasn’t solved the underlying cause since the migraines return when it is stopped.

I’m in the middle of selling my house and buying a new one so haven’t had time to write blog posts, but I was so excited about this information I decided to make a video for you to summarize what I’ve been learning. I don’t have time to write a transcript so I hope you can watch or listen to the video to get the full download.

In this video, you will learn about the importance of bioavailable copper and zinc and what that has to do with histamine, herpes, and hormones.  I’d also like to share my pate recipe here for those of you adventurous enough to incorporate it into your diet.

Mineralized Water with Magnesium and Sodium Chloride (Video)

In this video I share how I make my own mineralized water.

Here is the recipe:
In a saucepan, combine equal parts magnesium chloride flakes to purified water.  Save this “magnesium oil” in a container with a lid and keep it next to your water filter so you can add it to water as you drink it.

1 teaspoon of magnesium oil is approximately 500mg of magnesium.
I use 1 teaspooon of the magnesium oil with a pinch of salt twice a day in a pint of purified water for a total of 1000mg a day of magnesium chloride.

To learn more about the amazing properties of natural, structured water, check out the links below.

 

Plant Remedy Revolution Summit Interview with Marya Gendron (Audio)

I was so excited to be featured in the Plant Remedy Revolution Summit recently with Shauna Wall. In this interview, Shauna Wall and I discuss the plant-based solutions to migraine headache that I’ve discovered as part of my SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.

Shauna Wall is an herbalist and natural health educator that teaches the balance of tradition and science in plant medicine. She encourages us to stay open to the healing power of the plant kingdom and learn from the time-tested, healing power of our plant allies.  In the coursework, you will learn easy, accessible practices designed to breakthrough anxiety, heal your body and be fee of toxic side-effects.

Why You Need to Know About Niacin B3 for Migraine

The hunt for B vitamins that don’t trigger migraine

Earlier last year, in my ongoing hunt for a Folk Medicine solution to easily, safely, and affordably abort migraine headaches, I got distracted by a long and circuitous diversion when I found myself studying B vitamins.  I wanted to understand why some people with migraine who clearly need B vitamins so much can’t tolerate them. I had personally been triggered by methylated B vitamins myself and had heard stories from clients reacting poorly to them.

In the process of discovering which B vitamins may be causing the most havoc for those with migraine, I also discovered that niacin worked beautifully to abort migraine.  But the irony is that it is niacin – aka nicotinic acid or B3 – that I was initially the most skeptical of.  I wrote about my concerns that niacin might be triggering migraine in this blog post:  (“Does Niacin B3 Contribute to Migraine and Histamine Intolerance?”). Please read that blog post for a primer on Niacin.

I was suspicious of niacin as a potential trigger because niacin is a “methyl sponge” – ie, it mops up methyl.  It is generally known that high histamine is associated with undermethylation.  I had tied my own migraines to histamine intolerance and helped many with migraine to eliminate their migraine symptoms through a low histamine diet while rebuilding gut health using my SimplyWell Protocol, with excellent results.

If it is true that those with high histamine are undermethylated already, wouldn’t lowering their methylation with niacin deepen the histamine load and add to migraines? This was my concern. Surely the few anecdotal reports of people I had found online who had had success with niacin to abort migraine were not really suffering from true migraine then – or were they?

While niacin does mop up methyl, it turns out it is actually required for the breakdown of histamine:

“Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH) is the final step in histamine breakdown. This is the same enzyme that breaks down alcoholic beverages. This explains why some individuals flush when they drink. It is also a good reason to perhaps skip cocktails, beer, and wine during hay fever season. This enzyme actually has four different cofactors including zinc, vitamin C, thiamine (B1) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD—a niacin-based flavoprotein).” (Source)

Folic acid and folate trigger migraine because they contribute to glutamate load – and niacin reduces folate.

It appears there is more to migraine than histamine or methylation. I’m beginning to wonder if in fact the low histamine diet and gut healing in the SimplyWell Protocol is successful because it also raises niacin (by way of feeding gut bacteria that produce it), and lowers glutamate.  Maybe glutamate toxicity is playing an even bigger role in migraine outcomes than histamine or methylation status.  Not so incidentally, it seems that folic acid and folate supplementation is the biggest culprit in triggering migraine (even methylated folate) – and niacin reduces folate.

“Folates are comprised of numerous glutamic acids conjugates. The higher the dose of folates, the greater the propensity towards an increase in the pool of free glutamate. Hence, the “excitatory” and neurological types of adverse effects of folate in certain individuals.” (Source)

According to Dr. Albert Mensah, those who are undermethylated have low brain serotonin and also

“. . . have a genetic tendency to be very depressed in calcium, magnesium, methionine, and Vitamin B-6 and may have excessive levels of folic acid in nuclei of brain cells.” (Source)

I make a point to eat a lot of vegetables to get naturally-occuring folate since I choose not to supplement with synthetic  folic acid or folate, for reasons stated above. One concern I had with taking niacin (eventhough I take mine in my own hand-blended B complex with other Bs but without folic acid or folate) was that it might deplete folate, since niacin-derived NAD is a necessary co-factor for the enzymes dihydrofolate reductase in the folate/tetrahydrobiopterin cycles and S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase in the methionine cycle (Source).

A recent blood test showed no folate deficiency even while supplementing with 80mg of niacin a day (and sometimes more when I aborted a headache) for three months. It seems my concerns about taking niacin depleting folate and folic acid may be unfounded – perhaps because undermethylators are high in folic acid.

Luckily, the B-complex B-Minus by Seeking Health contains no folic acid or folate (or methyl b12).  It also contains some niacin B3, whereas many other B blends contain niacinamide or non-flushing B3, which does not have the same benefits as niacin as nicotinic acid does.

Why niacin sufficiency is so important for those with migraine

Because migraine is a chronic systemic inflammatory condition affecting the whole body, there are many angles from which to view migraine causality.  One perspective worth recognizing is that migraine is a metabolic disease caused by inefficiencies in enzymatic processes.  Because vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all needed for enzymes to work, it makes sense to ask to what extent nutritional deficiency is playing a role in migraine.  This is especially important in the case of niacin, which is used in more biochemical reactions than any other vitamin-derived cofactor once it is converted to the enzyme NAD.

 “. .Your body uses NAD (with a hydrogen it is NADH) in over 450 biochemical reactions, most of which are involved in anabolic and catabolic reactions. Most people tend to associate NAD with glycolosis (sugar breakdown) and ATP (energy production). However, NAD is involved in many other reactions as a cofactor, including either the synthesis (anabolism) or the breakdown (catabolism) of just about every molecule our cells make: steroids, prostaglandins, and enzymes. NAD is involved in cell signalling and assists in ongoing repair of your DNA.” (Source: Niacin, the Real Story)

Technically, niacin is the third B vitamin discovered (although because it can be made from tryptophan in the body it actually should be classed as an amino acid). Niacin deficiencies in the general population but also in those with migraine may be more widespread than realized because testing for niacin deficiency is not a common practice.

Niacin B3 is vitally important, especially for those with migraine because it:

  • raises blood sugar (good for migraineurs with low blood sugar)
  • breaks down glutamates (often the cause of that migraine that starts at 4am)
  • it helps synthesizes sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone (low estrogen and progesterone lead to migraine)
  • helps heal leaky gut
  • helps metabolize excess ammonia (cause of leaky gut and also brain inflammation)
  • increases serotonin
  • removes heavy metals
  • cleans out the lymphatic system
  • helps to break down beta-amyloid lesions in the brain (common in migraineurs)
  • thins the blood – ie, has an “anti-sludging effect” (migraineurs have sticky blood)
  • mops up adrenaline, thus reducing anxiety
  • improves sleep

Causes of niacin deficiency and pellagra

Compromised gut flora due to the use of antibiotics, consumption of high-carb diets, estrogen dominance, and stress all contribute to niacin deficiency. A diet high in the amino acid leucine may also contribute because it interferes with the conversion of tryptophan to niacin. Leucine is high in whey and soy protein concentrates and is also known as the food additive  E641 as a flavor enhancer (Source). Niacin deficiency can also be caused by Hartnup’s disease, where there is a block in the tryptophan-nicotinic acid pathway. Consumption of polyunsaturated fats DHA, EPA, and linoleic acid also play a role because they activate the conversion of tryptophan to quinolinic acid, and inhibit the formation of niacin (Source).

Problems caused by niacin deficiency can range from mild to fatal, as in the case of severe pellagra. Mild niacin deficiency is characterized by mental fatigue, irritability, weakness, indigestion, and skin irritations, while mild to advanced pellagra involves headaches, insomnia, loss of strength, light sensitivity, nausea, indigestion, and hypersensitivity to smells (Source). In acute niacin deficiency, an encephalopathy is found which closely resembles Wernicke’s syndrome – a thiamine B1 deficiency disease usually found in alcoholics and discovered post-mortem.

Prior to the discovery that pellagra was caused by niacin deficiency (and subsequent fortification of flour with niacin in 1940), it was thought to be an infectious disease.  Three million pellagra cases and 100,000 deaths resulted from niacin deficiency in the US in the first half of the 20th century – with 30,000 of those deaths occurring in 1930 following the Great Depression (Source: “Niacin, the Real Story”).

Given that migraine headache is experienced by a disproportionate amount of women compared to men, it’s really interesting to make note of the fact that:

“Pellagra occurs about twice as often in women as in men, and this is because estrogen activates an enzyme that alters metabolism of tryptophan, blocking the formation of niacin . . . Progesterone inhibits the activity of that enzyme. Progesterone also . . . decreases the excitatory carcinogens and increases the formation of niacin.” (Source)

Niacin is a known – but obscured – migraine solution

From my research it appears that the benefits of niacin for migraine are known but not widely shared, realized, or emphasized.  A few websites mention niacin as being helpful along with a long slew of other substances, most notably riboflavin (B2), feverfew, butterbur, ginger, magnesium, etc etc.  With niacin mentioned in passing along with this long list of other contenders, it is easily overlooked and does not stand out as a legitimate solution. The majority of the websites I saw didn’t mention that niacin could abort a migraine outright, or how to do it, they just said it was supportive of migraine.

The two sites I did find that said migraine could be aborted with niacin didn’t mention that it could also be used to prevent migraine, or why it worked.  The authors of the book “Niacin, the Real Story” (by Hoffer, Saul, Foster) only had a very small section on the topic sharing a single report from the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic in which a patient had responded to sustained-release niacin.  They also mention that a 2005 review of nine articles investigating niacin therapy for migraine stated:

“Intravenous and oral niacin has been employed in the treatment of acute and chronic migraine and tension-type headaches, but its use has not become part of contemporary medicine, nor have there been randomized controlled trials further assessing this novel treatment . . . Although niacin’s mechanisms of action have not been substantiated from controlled clinical trials, this agent may have beneficial effects upon migraine and tension-type headaches.” (Source)

Clearly, there is benefit in the use of niacin for migraine, but for some reason these benefits have become obscured, forgotten, ignored, buried, unrealized, or just not very rigorously studied. I want to bring niacin back into the limelight.

Going off the Protocol to experiment with niacin

A nagging voice of intuition kept asking me why there would be anecdotal reports and some support from studies that niacin helped migraine if it actually exacerbated it. I’m glad I got over my initial caution with niacin so I could discover its benefits.

I’ve learned I have to stay on my SimplyWell Protocol to be completely free from migraines. But I still go off of the Protocol form time to time to test the extent to which the underlying root causes of my migraine have been healed (or not), and to experiment with new approaches to migraine.  After three weeks off the Protocol, the telltale migraines do come back. Last time I went off the Protocol, I used this as an opportunity to try out niacin. The niacin worked beautifully (usually at a dose of 500mg) to dissolve both headaches and a few migraines.  I then went back on the Protocol.  Each time I get off of it, I’m reminded that preventing migraine with the Protocol is much easier and more desirable than having to rely on a pill to abort migraine.

Now that I’m back on my beloved SimplyWell Protocol, and am migraine free again, I still continue to utilize niacin in my B complex that I make myself.  I love niacin, because it clearly stabilizes my mood, improves my sleep quality, has completely eliminated any brain fog I used to wake up with in the morning (which usually went away after an hour), and has given me more resilience in being able to eat very high histamine foods without even a glimmer of brain fog.  I take it daily, and truly appreciate it’s value for improving my quality of life. I try not to share anything with my migraine clients that I have not personally tried or use regularly myself.

Feedback from clients on niacin

I’ve received feedback from a number of clients who have used niacin for migraine, with mixed results. As with all things, diversity in response, approach, and interest is the name of the game.  That includes people who just don’t like the idea of taking a synthetic supplement, even while they rely on synthetic pharmaceuticals to abort migraine.

A few of my clients have had great success aborting migraine with niacin – these are the people who don’t mind the flush. One client even said that the flush of niacin felt almost identical to the flush she gets from her Imitrex shots. Some people, myself included, enjoy the flush.

Another client was encouraged by the research I shared but chose to do a lot more research herself and after doing so, decided to take time-release niacin before bed.  She no longer wakes up with migraine in the morning like she used to, and she has replaced her nightly triptans with niacin. Personally, I am not in favor of time-release niacin due to its potential challenges it poses for the liver to process it, but my client has done her research and made her own conclusions.

Others can’t tolerate the flush and some even find the experience downright awful (itching, burning, prickling, shivers, nausea).  From the people I’ve worked with taking niacin, I’ve observed that it is generally those who have had migraine for a longer time period, who eat a normal diet including high histamine foods, and who also take medications for migraine that have the most unpleasant reactions.  For these people niacin may not be a viable option for aborting migraine, though they may benefit from getting smaller doses in a B complex taken with food to avoid such reactions.  On the other hand I also had a client who had migraines for a long period and took medications while eating high-histamine food who felt fine with the flush and used niacin to get off her meds.

Some people don’t even get a flush even on very high doses of niacin, and also aren’t able to abort a migraine with niacin without a flush – while other people can abort a migraine with niacin even in the absence of a flush. So responses are all over the board.

Flushing from niacin usually indicates a high level of histamine (since niacin empties the mast cells of histamine), while a lack of flushing from niacin usually indicates a very high threshold for niacin and potentially a very deep deficiency and/or an excess stress manifested as adrenaline in the body.

“When an individual is stressed, their requirements for vitamin B3 will need to increase, due to increased amounts of adrenalin (epinephrine) being released from the adrenal medulla, creating more oxidized adrenalin. To convert the increased oxidized adrenalin back to original adrenalin, the reducing ability of NAD is necessary, and thus the need for more vitamin B3. Perhaps the lack of or reduced flushing among these patients was due to an increased metabolic need for vitamin B3 (i.e., a more rapid conversion of vitamin B3 to NAD within the body), necessitated by heightened periods of stress.” (Source)

Most people can abort a migraine with 250mg of niacin on an empty stomach or with only a small amount of food if the migraine is caught early on.  If it is not taken until the migraine is advanced, more may be needed for it to work.  Generally 250-500mg is sufficient to abort a migraine for most people, but individual tolerances for niacin vary widely.

Follow the money

In 2017, the global market for drugs used to treat migraine is $3 billion and rapidly growing. The money spent to pay expert practitioners to (often unsuccessfully) treat migraine is surely even more. Niacin costs about .06 cents per capsule.  Triptans cost about $28 per pill. The new CGRP receptor antagonist drugs, which use recombinant DNA, will probably cost tens of thousands of dollars per shot, and may not be covered by insurance.  The fact that niacin is available in most every drug store or grocery store and is not widely known about for use with migraine is amazing when you consider how incredibly important, supportive, and effective it is at addressing some of the root causes of migraine.

I find it inexcusable that so many people are suffering so much with migraine headache – fully 1/3 of them caused by medications themselves – even while such simple, effective, and affordable solutions such as niacin exist. The good news is that niacin is only one of many natural approaches to aborting migraine.

Want to learn more about niacin for migraine?

This blog post is an excerpt from a new e-book I am writing that includes more information on niacin, including:
  • Why not just get niacin from food?
  • Niacin, Tryptophan, and Serotonin
  • Gut flora imbalances and their effects on niacin
  • Niacin and hormones
  • How niacin works with riboflavin
  • Is niacin a replacement for the SimplyWell Protocol?
  • How to abort a migraine with niacin
  • How to prevent migraine with niacin
  • Cautions, contraindications, and safety concerns with niacin
The good news is that for those who have sensitive stomachs or cannot tolerate the niacin flush, I’ve discovered another even gentler and more effective way to abort migraine using an essential amino acid that is virtually unknown as a solution for migraine.
I have searched for over a year to find alternatives to NSAID’s or pharmaceuticals that are effective, and I’m so excited to have found them. The ability to get rid of headaches and migraines using natural supplements can be a huge leverage point during the first few months on the SimplWell Protocol because these supplements are supportive and nutritional rather than suppressive and toxic.
Stay tuned – this e-book will be available in the coming months.

Two Years on the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol

How Did Migraine Become My Life?

A year into my chronic migraine saga post c-section I was bewildered to realize that my life was still completely dominated by pain, indigestion, brain fog, poor sleep, and the host of problems that stem from that.  It never occurred to me that at such a relatively young age (34) I would find myself chronically ill with migraines. That was something that happened to other people, right?

Two years after the c-section, I was still sick as a dog.  I spent all of my time researching and experimenting, trying to find my way out of the maize of hell I was in. Occasionally the magnitude of the problem and the fact that my migraines still persisted despite my best efforts became totally overwhelming.  Apparently, this was now my life. I was married to an amazing man and had the sweetest son – a son who needed my attention and energy.  But my full love of life, my full energy, and my sense of self had been very eroded.  I was a shadow of my former self.

Discovering the SimplyWell Protocol

I did not know when or if I would ever have a breakthrough, but I did. I’ve called my breakthrough The SimplyWell Protocol.  I call it this because two of the most important aspects of the Protocol (carrots and potatoes) are very simple, seemingly mediocre foods – and as such, easily overlooked.  I had not expected that my relief would come from such a humble and unexpected place, especially after all I had tried and the doctors I had seen. (I’ve considered rebranding my name because many people don’t find lifestyle change simple.  What they mean is that it’s not easy.  Simple and easy are not the same thing).

I discovered the SimplyWell Protocol in January of 2015. I still had indigestion, mild headaches, and a fair amount of brain fog, but the migraines were gone and, because I was so relieved to have a break from them and to have found a solution, I was very diligent in following the Protocol.

Refining the SimplyWell Protocol

By the time summer 2015 came around, I had decided to refine the protocol by diversifying the sources of prebiotics beyond resistant starch in an attempt to increase the diversity of flora in my gut microbiome.  That step, combined with all of the vitamin D I was getting from the summer sunlight, meant that my brain fog largely dissipated and I started to feel strangely normal.

The discovery of the six steps that I now call the SimplyWell Protocol allowed me to hold a job.  By following the lifestyle changes outlined in my Protocol, I was able to continue my life with a chronic debilitating condition while exhibiting very few of the symptoms of chronic migraine, and without the use of any pharmaceutical or over-the-counter pain meds of any kind.

Eventually, after feeling great and migraine free for six months, I started to slack off on the Protocol. I also wanted to find out what would happen if I went off it. I learned that the underlying cause of my chronic migraines was and is not CURED by my Protocol.  I had to – and still have to – stay on the Protocol to maintain a state of being symptom free.  I’m grateful for this state of normalcy while on the Protocol. (My belief is that the pathogenic and histamine-producing microbial populations which seeded my gut in the hospital post c-section got the prime real-estate of the inner gut lining and that this population remains difficult to uproot even while the Protocol helps to shift the overall biofilm towards healthier bacteria).

This is the liberty and resilience that the Protocol offers, but it is also risky. The danger of relapse inevitably arises once people start to feel good on the Protocol. They feel so good they stop taking the steps necessary to maintain resilience in the face of eating high histamine foods, getting triggered by a stressful life event, or just being overworked and too busy like most of us moderns are to properly take care of themselves.

On and Off the Protocol Over the Past Two Years

All told, I’ve taken about six months off of the Protocol in the past two years.  Four of those six months were a deliberate experiment that I took to see if I could reset my gut flora using B vitamins and vitamin D, as outlined by Dr. Stasha Gominak.  The other two months off of the Protocol represent the total amount of time that I’m estimating I went off the protocol through accident, negligence, or laziness.  These bouts of slipping off the protocol usually lasted about two weeks each. The migraines do come back after about two weeks off of the Protocol.  Currently I am on another break from the Protocol as I experiment with exploring the underlying emotional basis for migraine.  You can learn more about that here.

I have had a handful of migraines in the past two years, as compared to about 8-10 migraines a month prior to discovering the Protocol.  I will outline the causes of the migraines I have had below.  But I think it’s also important to point out that one very big difference in my life is that not only are migraines very scarce and I always know why they crop up when they do, but also the overall quality of my life is greatly improved because I have a clear head without other headaches or brain fog the rest of the time.  My quality of life and ability to function as a mother has drastically improved, and my brain and gut health continue to get better as I learn more about sleep hygiene and nutrition, especially the importance of B vitamins (all of these topics will be explored in my comprehensive online course).  This has been an amazing journey.

Over the past two years, I’ve had migraines from the following triggers:

  • Extreme stress + sleep deprivation
    The sleep deprivation has been ongoing for 7 months now that I have a second child and am breastfeeding every night.  This makes me less resilient to stress. With sleep deprivation, melatonin levels get disrupted.  Melatonin is known to inhibit CGRP, the vasoactive peptide responsible for causing migraine.  It is very hard to heal migraine with disrupted sleep.  Parenting small kids is very stressfull in general.  Stress management is a hugely important aspect of healing migraines, and it’s one that I am still learning.
  • Going off the Protocol accidentally or through negligence while eating high histamine foods
    These migraines were no mystery.  One day I woke up with a migraine and realized that in addition to being off the Protocol for almost two weeks, I had eaten nothing but high-histamine foods the day before: yogurt, pizza, dried fruit, chocolate, kombucha, spinach salad, and a bone broth soup with cayenne pepper. Ooops!  While eating high histamine foods becomes less and less of a problem while on the Protocol, eating only high histamine foods while off the Protocol very predictably leads to migraines.  No surprises there.
  • Experiment with arginine
    One disadvantage of not getting migraines often is not being able to experiment with potential solutions anymore. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I actually tried to induce a headache with salami and cheese to see if calcium pyruvate and arginine would clear it up.  When it did, I decided to take more arginine – which gave me a migraine.  What I did find out from this, however, is that small doses of arginine with pyruvate may work very well to help the body eliminate glutamates, whereas larger doses dilate the blood vessels too much.  Valuable information, paid for dearly.  (Don’t tell my husband that that migraine was self-induced, K? And if you’re reading this babe, sorry for making you stay home with the kids on that day and missing work).
  • B12 supplementation
    This was a migraine from a single dose of methylated B12 that I took early on after discovering the Protocol.  I have since read that B12 can potentially be toxic if taken when glutathione levels are low. (Folate and folic acid are also huge migraine triggers, even moreso than B12 is).

I’ve also had a few strong headaches that were caused by viral infections.  These headaches were different in characteristics than migraine – pain was in a different place (more at the base of the skull/occiput rather than deep behind the eye).  I was still pleasantly surprised to see that these two viral headaches I had responded well to the cabbage compress.

Full Disclosure

It was never my intention to have a c-section, or to get chronic migraines, or to become a migraine relief coach (at least, it was not my ego’s intention, even while it clearly is part of my soul’s path).  Given the unintentional way that I ended up in the position I am in, I have nothing to offer but honesty and transparency in my process of healing myself.

The Protocol is quite young, and what I offer migraine clients is always evolving as I research migraine. I continue to find more solutions to migraine headache above and beyond the Protocol, but to date, the Protocol remains the best way that I’ve found to relieve migraine without meds for myself and those that I coach.

It would be nice if there was a natural silver bullet out there that acted as effectively as pharmaceuticals without the side-effects. The protocol is not a silver bullet.  It is only a tool. If there is any silver bullet, it is each individual person to the extent that they recognize that healing happens through consistent dietary and lifestyle change, accomplished through an inner motivation to live a better life.

It has been a great joy not only to empower myself to take better care of myself so as to be free from migraines, but to help others do so.  The pleasure of my work comes not just from feeling the satisfaction in knowing that low-tech, simple foods can so radically help us, but also from seeing people find the power in themseves to transform their lives.  Plants and information are only healing to the extent that people apply the information and use the plants.  The only thing that ever heals people is themselves.